They have an average annual salary of over $1 million. They are paid $55 a day meal money when they travel. They sit in the first class section on planes and stay in first class hotels. But nowadays there's even more motivation to want to play in the NBA: charter flying.
Increasingly, teams are saying goodbye to crowded airports and hello to flexible flight schedules, cooked-to-order meals, real silverware and sparkling mineral water. There is a growing trend in the NBA for teams to travel by charter flight. The theory is that less time in airports translates into more rest time in the hotels, which translates into more wins.The Jazz, who left Tuesday for a five-game road trip to the East, will charter all but the beginning and ending legs of the trip.
Chartering costs - which include renting, leasing or buying private planes - can be significantly higher than commercial fares. Two NBA executives told the Deseret News that a rough rule of thumb says it costs about 15 percent more to rent a charter plane than to buy first-class seating for the team on a commercial flight.
However, the rewards are obvious. A team can leave a city immediately after a game rather than waiting until the following morning. There is far less waiting in airports. And in some private charter agreements, teams can special order meals, complete with linen tablecloths, silverware and glassware.
"I'm not fond of going to bed late and getting up for a 6 a.m. wake-up call to go to the next city. I'd rather get into a city late and sleep until 10 or 11 the next morning," says Jazz forward Blue Edwards. "So chartering works out better. If you add up the hours spent in an airport minus the time you don't when you use a charter, those hours mean more sleep time in the hotel."
Whether chartering works in the win column is a matter of conjecture. Two years ago when Portland and Detroit made the NBA Finals, both teams chartered all season. Now other teams are jumping on the bandwagon. All told, 20 of 27 NBA teams will charter some or all of their trips this year. Portland, Sacramento and Detroit charter all their road trips.
The Jazz are chartering this trip and probably another five-game swing in December.
Opinions vary widely on how effective chartering is. Some executives consider it a gross extravagance while others say it is simply keeping pace with their peers.
"On every team, whether it's true or not, there's a perception that you're in better shape and there's less wear and tear on your body if you charter," says Kings' VP for Marketing Joe Marsalla.
By chartering all year long, the Kings could make a good case not to charter. They have leased a private jet for two seasons, yet have won only one road game in that time and lost the last 40 in a row. Their plane includes VCR's, couch-type seating, made-to-order meals and tables that fold down for card-playing or dining.
"I don't think we would have won that game if we didn't have the plane," Coach Dick Motta explained to team executives.
Not everyone agrees that chartering is the only way to fly. When the Jazz finish playing New Jersey on Wednesday night, they will immediately jet to Detroit, where they meet the Pistons on Friday. But they won't get to bed until around 2 a.m.
Jazz guard Jeff Malone contends he would rather fly commercially. "I don't like it," says Malone of charter flying. "You end up going to bed sometimes four, five in the morning. Some guys can handle it better than that, but I don't like it."
Malone concedes, though, that private planes are an advantage when a team must play back-to-back road games. The Jazz have two back-to-back turns on this week's trip.
Since the Jazz first chartered a trip - a two-game swing to New Jersey and Charlotte in 1989-90 - their success has been varied. They won both games that season. But last year they went 4-3 on a 10-day road swing. However, they flew commercially for the first three games, going 3-0. After switching to their charter plane, the Jazz went - oops! - 1-3 the rest of the way.
Also last year, the Jazz chartered to Indiana and Cleveland, beating the Cavs and losing to Indy.
Jazz G. M. Tim Howells says he doesn't see his team chartering every trip in the near future, but it will continue to charter on long trips East. "We'll pick and choose our trips," he says.
So is it worth the extra cost to custom travel your team? The jury is still out.
"I don't think we can tell that," says Howells. He points out that Phoenix chartered last year and lost to the Jazz in the playoffs.
"There's probably a trend," continues Howells. "There's more chartering this year than last. And it's a buyer's market on planes right now. Now it's economically more feasible than last year. Whether everything goes that way is going to be interesting."